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Travel to NYC on a Budget: 7 Tricks Only Locals Use!


New York City is a dream destination for many, but its reputation for being expensive can be daunting. However, locals know how to travel to NYC on a budget without breaking the bank. With a little insider knowledge, you too can enjoy NYC affordably. Here are seven tricks only locals use to make the most of their city without emptying their wallets.

Trick 1: Use Public Transportation

NYC’s public transportation system is not only extensive but also one of the most cost-effective ways to get around the city. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) operates subways, buses, and trains that connect all five boroughs, making it easy to reach your destination without spending a fortune.

Entrance to the New York subway
Photo Credit to Eddie Stofe


The subway is the backbone of New York City’s public transportation system. With 472 stations and 27 subway lines, the subway can take you almost anywhere in the city. A single ride costs $2.75, but if you’re planning to stay for more than a couple of days, consider getting an unlimited MetroCard. The 7-day unlimited ride MetroCard costs $33, giving you unlimited access to subways and local buses for a week.


  • To get from Times Square to Brooklyn Bridge, take the N, Q, R, W, or 7 train from Times Square-42nd Street to Court Street.
  • To visit the American Museum of Natural History from Midtown, take the B or C train to 81st Street-Museum of Natural History.


Buses complement the subway system and are a great option for reaching destinations that are not easily accessible by train. The fare for buses is the same as the subway, and you can use your MetroCard to pay. There are also Select Bus Service (SBS) routes, which are faster and more efficient due to fewer stops and dedicated bus lanes.


  • To get from the Upper East Side to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, take the M1, M2, M3, or M4 bus down Fifth Avenue.
  • To travel from Greenwich Village to the Meatpacking District, take the M14A or M14D Select Bus Service.
underground platform in nyc
Photo credit to Valery Anatolievich


The MTA also operates commuter trains that connect NYC with nearby suburbs in New York State and Connecticut. These trains are part of the Metro-North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), and New Jersey Transit. While these are generally more expensive than subways and buses, they can be a cost-effective way to explore areas outside of the city.


  • To visit Coney Island, take the D, F, N, or Q train to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue.
  • For a day trip to the Bronx Zoo, take the 2 or 5 train to East Tremont Avenue-West Farms Square, then transfer to the BxM11 bus.

Tips for Using Public Transportation

  • Download Apps: Use apps like Citymapper or Google Maps for real-time transit information and directions.
  • Avoid Peak Hours: Travel during non-peak hours to avoid crowded trains and buses.
  • Check Service Changes: The MTA frequently updates schedules and routes for maintenance and construction. Check their website or app for service changes before you travel.

Trick 2: Take Advantage of Free Attractions

New York City is home to numerous free attractions that provide a rich cultural experience. Central Park is a vast green oasis perfect for a leisurely stroll or a picnic. The Staten Island Ferry offers stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline, all for free. Additionally, many museums like the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History offer free admission days or pay-what-you-wish hours. Plan your visit around these times to save money.

Trick 3: Eat Like a Local

Eating out in NYC doesn’t have to be expensive if you know where to go. Street food vendors and food trucks offer delicious meals at a fraction of the cost of sit-down restaurants. Try a classic New York hot dog or a slice of pizza from a local pizzeria. For a more diverse experience, visit Chinatown or the East Village for affordable and authentic ethnic cuisine. Spots like Joe’s Pizza and Halal Guys are favorites among locals for a reason.

front of a local restaurant in nyc

Trick 4: Explore Off-Peak Hours

Timing can make a significant difference when visiting popular NYC attractions. Visiting during off-peak hours not only helps you avoid the crowds but can also lead to discounted prices. Early mornings and late evenings are ideal times to explore landmarks like the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock. Additionally, theater lovers can find cheaper Broadway tickets by attending weekday matinees or using discount ticket services like TKTS.

Trick 5: Use Discount Passes

Discount passes like the CityPASS or the New York Pass provide significant savings on admission to major attractions. These passes bundle several attractions into one package, often at a reduced rate. They also allow you to skip the lines, saving both time and money. Compare the different options to see which pass includes the attractions you want to visit.

Busy day in new york, people are crossing the street, crowd in Ny

Trick 6: Stay in Budget-Friendly Neighborhoods

Accommodation costs in New York City can quickly add up, but staying in budget-friendly neighborhoods can help you save money without sacrificing convenience or comfort. While Manhattan hotels are often pricey, exploring other boroughs like Brooklyn, Queens, and even the Bronx can provide more affordable lodging options with easy access to the city’s main attractions.


Brooklyn offers a range of budget-friendly neighborhoods that are just a short subway ride away from Manhattan. Areas like Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bedford-Stuyvesant are known for their vibrant arts scenes, trendy cafes, and affordable accommodations.


  • Williamsburg: Known for its hipster vibe and waterfront views, Williamsburg has numerous budget hotels, hostels, and Airbnb options. It’s just one stop from Manhattan on the L train.
  • Bushwick: This area is famous for its street art and nightlife. It’s a bit further out but offers more affordable lodgings and a unique local experience.


Queens is another great option for budget-conscious travelers. It’s the most diverse borough in NYC, offering a rich mix of cultures and cuisines. Neighborhoods like Astoria, Long Island City, and Flushing are known for their affordability and excellent transportation links to Manhattan.


  • Astoria: Just a 15-minute subway ride from Midtown Manhattan, Astoria is known for its Greek heritage, excellent restaurants, and affordable stays. Hotels and Airbnb options here are generally cheaper than in Manhattan.
  • Long Island City: With stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, Long Island City offers budget-friendly hotels and easy access to Manhattan via several subway lines. It’s a great spot for travelers who want to be close to the action without the high costs.

The Bronx

The Bronx is often overlooked by tourists, but it has a lot to offer and can be a budget-friendly base for your NYC adventure. The borough is home to attractions like Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Zoo, and the New York Botanical Garden.


  • Fordham: This neighborhood is close to the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden. It offers affordable hotels and a more residential feel.
  • South Bronx: With recent gentrification, the South Bronx now has a mix of affordable accommodations and trendy spots. It’s well connected to Manhattan via subway.

Staten Island

While Staten Island is the least urban of the five boroughs, it offers a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s connected to Manhattan by the free Staten Island Ferry, which provides stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and the skyline.


  • St. George: This neighborhood near the ferry terminal offers budget-friendly accommodations and easy access to Manhattan. It’s ideal for travelers who prefer a quieter, suburban atmosphere.

Tips for Finding Budget Accommodations

  • Airbnb and Hostels: Airbnb and hostels often offer more affordable and unique lodging options compared to traditional hotels. Look for highly-rated hosts and read reviews carefully.
  • Book in Advance: NYC is a popular destination, so booking your accommodation well in advance can help you secure better rates.
  • Flexible Dates: If your travel dates are flexible, you can often find better deals by avoiding peak travel times and holidays.
  • Consider Room Shares: Some budget hotels and hostels offer shared rooms, which can be a cost-effective option for solo travelers or those comfortable with communal living.

Benefits of Staying in Budget-Friendly Neighborhoods

Staying in a budget-friendly neighborhood not only saves money but also allows you to experience a different side of New York City. These areas often have their own unique charm and local flavor, giving you a more authentic and diverse experience. Plus, with the city’s excellent public transportation system, you’ll still have easy access to all the major attractions in Manhattan and beyond.

By choosing budget-friendly neighborhoods for your stay, you can enjoy the best of NYC without overspending on accommodation. Whether you opt for the artsy vibe of Brooklyn, the diverse culture of Queens, the historic sites of the Bronx, or the tranquility of Staten Island, you’ll find plenty of affordable options to suit your needs and make your trip memorable.

Trick 7: Look for Free Events

New York City is bursting with free events and activities year-round, offering a plethora of opportunities to experience the city’s vibrant culture without spending a dime. From concerts and festivals to art exhibitions and outdoor movies, there’s always something happening. Here are some tips and examples to help you find and enjoy these events.

Concerts and Performances

New York City is a hub for live music and performances, many of which are free to attend. During the summer, you can catch free concerts in parks, plazas, and other public spaces.


  • SummerStage: Held in Central Park and various parks throughout the city, SummerStage offers free performances by renowned artists and emerging talent in genres ranging from rock and jazz to hip-hop and classical.
  • Bryant Park Picnics: Enjoy free outdoor concerts and Broadway performances in Bryant Park. Bring a blanket and picnic to make an evening of it.
Photograph: Courtesy Nick Childers | TimeOut

Festivals and Street Fairs

The city hosts numerous festivals and street fairs that are free to attend. These events often feature food vendors, live entertainment, and activities for all ages.


  • Feast of San Gennaro: This annual festival in Little Italy celebrates Italian culture with food stalls, live music, and parades. It’s free to enter and soak up the festive atmosphere.
  • Japan Day at Central Park: Celebrate Japanese culture with traditional performances, food, and activities. The event is free and family-friendly.

Museums and Galleries

Many of NYC’s world-class museums and galleries offer free admission on certain days or during specific hours. This allows you to explore art, history, and culture without the typical entry fees.


  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): Free admission every Friday evening from 5:30 PM to 9:00 PM.
  • Brooklyn Museum: Offers free admission on the first Saturday of every month (except January and September) from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM, featuring live music, dance performances, and art workshops.

Outdoor Movies

During the warmer months, you can find free outdoor movie screenings in parks and public spaces across the city. These events are perfect for a relaxing evening under the stars.


  • Movies Under the Stars: Hosted by NYC Parks, this program offers free outdoor movie screenings in parks throughout the city. Bring a blanket and some snacks for a fun movie night.
  • Bryant Park Film Festival: Every summer, Bryant Park transforms into an open-air cinema, showing classic films on a giant screen. The event is free and starts at sunset.

Free Tours and Activities

Several organizations offer free tours and activities that provide a deeper insight into the city’s history, culture, and landmarks.


  • Big Apple Greeter: A nonprofit organization that pairs visitors with local volunteers for free, personalized tours of the city. It’s a great way to see NYC through the eyes of a local.
  • Grand Central Partnership Walking Tours: Free tours of the Grand Central neighborhood, highlighting its history, architecture, and famous landmarks.

Finding Free Events

To stay updated on free events happening in NYC, use websites and apps that specialize in listing such activities. Websites like Time Out New York, Eventbrite, and NYCgo offer comprehensive event calendars with filters for free events.

For an up-to-date list of free events, check out Time Out New York.

Tips for Enjoying Free Events

  • Arrive Early: Popular events can get crowded, so arrive early to secure a good spot.
  • Check the Weather: Many free events are outdoors, so check the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
  • Bring Essentials: Pack essentials like water, snacks, sunscreen, and a blanket for comfort.

By taking advantage of NYC’s abundant free events, you can enjoy the city’s diverse cultural offerings without straining your budget. Whether it’s a concert in the park, a street festival, or a museum visit, there’s always something exciting and cost-free to do in the Big Apple.

lane in broadway new york

How to travel to NYC on a budget is entirely possible with a little planning and the right tips. 

By using public transportation, taking advantage of free attractions, eating like a local, exploring off-peak hours, using discount passes, staying in budget-friendly neighborhoods, and attending free events, you can enjoy the best of what NYC has to offer without overspending. So pack your bags, follow these local tricks, and embark on an unforgettable and affordable New York City adventure!

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Engage with us!

Our Discord server is a bustling hub where travelers like you share stories, tips, and advice. It’s the perfect place to:

Ask Questions and Share Experiences: Whether you’re seeking travel advice or have tales to tell, our community is here to listen and help.

Meet Fellow Travel Enthusiasts: Find travel buddies, join group trips, or simply enjoy conversations with people who share your passion for exploration.

[Join Our Discord Community]
Visit and subscribe to our YouTube Channel

By joining our Discord community and subscribing to our YouTube channel, you’re not just planning a trip; you’re becoming part of a global network of travelers dedicated to discovering the wonders of the world together. Let’s embark on this journey as a community, sharing our knowledge, stories, and passion for travel.